Well, head coach Marvin Lewis didn’t have to wait very long because we see what he meant.
At his Monday afternoon news conference Lewis was asked if he would bring in former Browns head coach and long-time confidant Hue Jackson to help with his transition to defensive coordinator and he said, “Wait and see.”
Now it looks like he has what could be characterized as his chief of staff.
NFL Media reported Monday night that Jackson has been added to the Bengals coaching staff two weeks after he was fired in Cleveland. It is Jackson’s third term under Lewis and fifth position in a stretch that began from 2004-2006 when Jackson coached Bengals wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to their first 1,000-yard seasons as a duo.
After Jackson coached the Raiders for a season, he returned in 2012 as an assistant special teams coach and assistant secondary coach before moving to running backs coach in 2013 along with the title of special assistant to the head coach. In 2014-15 he served as the offensive coordinator in a stint that featured quarterback Andy Dalton’s career season in 2015 before he took the Cleveland job.
Jackson arrived at Paul Brown Stadium Tuesday morning to be bestowed a title similar to special assistant. Jackson’s role is apparently going to focus on helping Lewis assimilate his head-coaching duties with managing and calling the defense.
It looks like Lewis needs some help because not many defensive head coaches do it and if they do there’s a unique reason. In the AFC, Buffalo’s Sean McDermott farms out the calls to coordinator Leslie Frazier, as does Vance Joseph to Joe Woods in Denver and Mike Vrabel to Dean Pees in Tennessee. Even Bill Belichick lets the defense run through linebackers coach Brian Flores in New England. Interim head coach Gregg Williams chose to keep the status quo in Cleveland so he still calls the defense and Jets head coach Todd Bowles had to take the job back when coordinator Kacy Rodgers took ill.
But Vikings head man Mike Zimmer, whose six seasons as Lewis’ coordinator in Cincinnati vaulted the Bengals into multiple play-off appearances, has chosen to keep making the calls on the Minnesota sidelines. Reached Monday night, Zimmer thought Lewis made the right call.
“He’s a fantastic defensive coach. He knows the team, he knows the players. If anybody can get it fixed quickly, it’s him,” Zimmer said. “He’s been an expert game planner for a long, long time, so he’s got plenty of practice in that. I don’t think that part will be hard.”
Zimmer was doing on Monday night what he thinks is the hardest part of the job. Immersing himself in the Bears offense and studying tape and tendencies.
“He’ll be spending a lot of time with one section of the team,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know how he’s going to do it, but I’m running the defensive meetings and I’m not in the other meetings that much. I talk to the offensive coaches, but that’s the part that’s different.”
And there’s also side-line activity.
“The other hard thing is if you want to make adjustments, or if you want to talk to the defense and then all of a sudden special teams is on the field,” Zimmer said. “He has to have someone relay the corrections he has to make to the other guys so he can see the rest of the game.”
There is no textbook on how to do it. Zimmer and Lewis have spent years discussing it. Zimmer chatted with McDermott about it during the offseason and early this season McDermott pulled the headsets from Frazier and called the second half of a loss. The next week Frazier got the headsets and a game ball when they stunned the Vikes, 27-6.
“You have to do what you have to do and it sounds like that’s what he had to do,” Zimmer said of Lewis. “It’s never ideal.”